Thursday 17 December 2015

Caldmore Chameleon - Walsall's Cultural Heart

While the rest of the world is driven into a Xmas frenzy we're having a lovely time, staying out of the shops, keeping away from the crowds and enjoying having absolutely no plans. For the first time in ages it wasn't raining when we woke up so we had a leisurely breakfast, grabbed our coats and the camera and went for a stroll. 

Walk down the ancient cobbled alley behind our house, pass the 19th Century Highgate windmill on your left and within a couple of minutes you'll reach Caldmore.

Pronounced "kar-ma" by us locals, Caldmore is a short walk away from Walsall town centre. It developed into a village during Victorian times with a bustling main shopping area thronged with rows of terraced housing, even boasting its own cinema, The Forum Picture House. From the 1950s until the early 1970s hundreds of Indian families made the village their home, bringing with them the culture and traditions of the Sub-Continent.

 I've lived on or in the outskirts of Caldmore for most of my life which probably explains my enduring love for India. It's like home.

In the early 1970s Mum & a friend ran a junk shop in Caldmore called Second Time Around. Newly arrived Indian families, unused to the British weather, flocked there to stock up on second hand overcoats, jumpers, boots, blankets and umbrellas, anything to keep them warm and dry.

Unlike the town centre the local shops never seemed to close, a lifesaver if Father Xmas had forgotten to put batteries in your Xmas present or if Mum had run out of cigarettes.

Indian sweet centres & curry houses were a part of every day life, the tantalising smell of sizzling spices and the allure of the intriguing snacks on display in the shop windows were far more appetising than the overcooked muck we'd get served up for school dinners. 

Most people in Caldmore were either Sikh and Hindu. Many years ago I remember the Hindu temple borrowing an elephant from a nearby zoo and parading him around the village green. 

Caldmore's traditional terraced houses are perennially popular with renters as they are both cheap and plentiful. I moved into a similar one to these early Victorian weavers cottages in 1985 and paid a whopping weekly rent of £11.

This house on the corner of the ironically named Hope Street has been derelict for as long as I can remember. Presumably there were once steps up to the front door, unless it was home to a Victorian giant. 

Original features galore. 

I love the casement windows on this early Victorian terrace.

This is the street where I bought my first home at the tender age of 24. Back then it was the heart of Caldmore's notorious red light district. I was the talk of the village as people assumed I was a high class tart. The street wasn't the best but, as I wanted to get on the property ladder and still be able to afford to eat, it was the only sensible option. 

Mount Street Stores was my local shop for years, the meeting place for all types of odd characters. You could take in an empty bottle and get it filled with sherry or beer, served from taps behind the counter. The local prostitutes would stand shivering on the car park to the left of the photo. I'd often walk back from the pub and take them bags of chips out of pity (there was a chippy on the opposite corner), it must have been a miserable existence.

Queen Henrietta is said to have spent a night at the White Hart Inn on Caldmore Green. During renovation in Victorian times a child's mummified arm was found stuffed into one of the chimneys. It used to be on public display in the town museum (photo HERE) although I haven't seen it for years. The building was once a dodgy pub but is now converted into respectable flats.

Back in the 1980s there was an infamous party in this building culminating in someone falling through the roof. Both Jon & I were there (but not together) but neither of us remember the gory details. 

Doveridge Place bears a blue plaque, it was once home to the poet Sir Henry Newbolt. 

Caldmore used to be filled with busy pubs but, like most of Britain, most are now boarded up and derelict. The Crown & Anchor (above) had a boxing ring upstairs and offered the attraction of catching a fight with your pint.

The Dog & Partridge closed down several years ago.

The legendary Highgate Brewery, built in 1898 and nationally famous for its Highgate Dark Mild (still brewed, just not locally) is also closed, sold to a property developer in 2014 and with no sign of activity since.  I miss the smell of hops.

And back home just before the rain started! 


  1. the kind of post I love. What a beautiful town, so many cool old buildings. Thanks for the tour

  2. A mummified arm, a grisly death, open prostitution. This place has quite the history. Even now, all those derelict buildings are like ghosts of it's troubled past. I love all of the Victorian features and those back alleys and what a great cultural area to live closeby to. Love this post. I'd love to hear more about that notorious party though xxx

  3. I also love these posts, Vix! Thanks for the tour and I would love to see this (and you!) in person soon.
    And so coincidental - the first apartment I lived in (didn't buy, just rented) was also on a street like the one you bought a house on. I befriended one of the 'tarts' - she was very very sweet.
    Also, is there some UK history behind the name "White Hart"? Given that that is also the name of the football stadium for the Spurs? xox

  4. Great post. Some lovely old buildings, I was thinking that front door needed some steps up to it. I expect the brewery will be more posh flats, still I suppose as long as they preserve the exterior at least the building gets to survive.
    I too bought my first place at 24, but the neighbourhood was quite dull compared to yours! x

  5. what an amazing place to live,, I can see why you never left here,, you should write a book, you have truly led the life, the authentic life,

  6. Fascinating post Vix. I bought my first place at 29, no prozzies nearby but there was a weird old bloke who had lots of women up to his flat every Tuesday...we later found out he was running a dating agency. (or that's what he said) Only one problem with this tour of yours...all the pubs you visited were closed! Love those Victorian terraces with the period detailing, the stories they could tell! Thanks for the squizz at Caldmore. xxx
    PS No frenzy in this household either.

  7. These posts are such fun. Virtual travels through the eyes of Vix.

    That bit about the kid's arm in the fireplace is scary! I don't know if I'd been keen on sleeping there.

    Europe is so interesting because there is so much history.

    I see that you come by your love of all things vintage is hereditary.


  8. That was a great read. In Rochdale where I was born we had and still have the Milkstone Road/Tweedale street area which has many characters and tales to tell. In amongst all the kebab shops and Indian/Asian shops is the little Curtain Theatre that hosts some of the best plays and musicals we've ever seen. You just have to dodge the druggies n drunks to get to it. Xx

  9. I love your local tours! Maybe that brewery will re-open, there's been such a resurgence of British brewing recently. London is full of local microbreweries now!

    I did my A-Levels in King's Cross when it was still a red light district, me and my friends used to pass the time playing a guessing game of "punter, plain-clothes police or prostitute" if we were waiting outside the station. Sometimes it was really obvious, other times, not so much.

  10. Your neighborhood is great - and you are a high class lady but not tart :). I love that you were at the same wild party but not together...must have been a fun conversation when you both realized that. You've certainly but your neighborhood on the map!

  11. My dear, thank you for this walk in the places where you live and you lived ... It 'really fascinating this tour, much better than going into town for shopping. Christmas is a great misfortune for me .. But I have to be patient! In the village where I grew up, there are many interesting things, but in common with you we abandoned homes and closed shops ... is sad.
    That abandoned house with the door so high I love it, I love the derelict houses with peeling walls and damp, Marco said that I was not normal, but after years he started to love the decadence!
    And then the Indian spices ... I have a great desire to Indian restaurant, now even more!

  12. Fascinating! Love learning about the history of both your town and yours - the roots for your fascination with India and vintage. Great photos, as always! :)

  13. I've never been to Walsall, Vix but it looks fascinating. Lovely architectural details on some interesting buildings and it all has character!! I grew up in a similar neighbourhood in London - we were all immigrants or children of immigrants. Now it's full of rich wankers; the houses sell for millions. We lived in a 3 roomed basement flat with an outside toilet, no bath, heating or hot water but it had character as well!

    You must soon be off to India - I'll think of you on Christmas Day as I tuck into my turkey and of my friend Jan who'll be in Cambodia. One day I might just escape Christmas at home.....I love it really! xx

  14. Vix, that's so interesting. My dad was a sales rep. and when I was a teenager in the 70s, I'd sometimes go along for the ride with him in my school holidays. He visited companies in Wednesbury, Walsall and other places in that area. I remember him taking me for a pub lunch to a pub in Walsall called the Saddle - I know it is famous for its leather and the football team are the Saddlers.
    Also I love Jerome K Jerome and Three Men in a Boat - the Wiki entry says he was from Caldmore.
    I think there was a JKJ museum in Walsall, now closed? Do you know?
    Thanks for the tour - fascinating.
    Merry Christmas from Karen, West Yorks

  15. Hi Vix,
    I loved this tour and the memories behind it! When you talk about being able to go out on Christmas day and get what you needed, it reminded me of a shop we had round the corner from us which was owned by an Indian couple (as was the Offie) and we went on Christmas day there once to buy fish fingers for lunch as we weren't going to eat Christmas dinner till later! I always think of the Christmas of fish fingers!x

  16. Every time you post about a community, I want to cross the ocean forever even more. Great history and tales!

  17. Hi Vix , I loved that post. Such an interesting place and great photos and history. All very different from my part of the world, Australia.

  18. Your memories must have been very vivid as you walked the alley and the streets where you took these photos. Reading your words I'm trying to imagine how strong your recollections must be. I'm imagining the smell of the trees, leaves, bricks, and cobblestones walking down that alley and the delightful smells of Indian spices and the yummy looking deserts in the Indian curry houses and sweet centres. I think a lot of us experienced some difficult times when we were younger and lived in low income areas. Thank you for the interesting photo-tour of the area. I like those casement windows on the early Victorian terrace too. I suspect your sense of nostalgia was strong visiting the locale of your first home. It was sweet of you to take bags of chips to the women as they stood shivering on the car park near Mount St. Stores. I love the colourful outfit you were wearing in the photo of you by the gate of the now closed Highgate + Walsall Brewing Co..

  19. Your tour posts are so great to read. I haven't been back to where I grew up in a very long time, and I suspect I wouldn't see much familiar. How nice to be able to spend so many years in one area, and feel connected to it.

  20. would like to take a stroll in this neighborhood too! and buy some of the colorful camiz and sari fabrics before eating a hot spiced curry!! thank you for taking us around! xxxxx

  21. Thanks for the fascinating tour!xxx

  22. Thank you for the walk round your town! Those Indian sweets look delicious; did you buy any to take home? I live in a Victorian terrace myself, one thing you can say about those places is that they were built to last.

    At least people thought you were a *high class* tart ;-)

  23. Sounds like some medical students having a lark with that arm!
    I get depressed thinking of all the individuality and joy missing from these places today. What we are missing.
    I love the sari shop. Definitely a good thing it is far away from least for my bank account.
    I see the apple didn't fall too far fron the tree with the secondhand goods selling!
    Glad you are having a nice rest. Hope all the injuries are healing well. Xo Jazzy Jack

  24. I want to go to that sari shop today! and of course the (RIP) Dog and Partridge. You always visit the most colorful and historical places, you two. Never stop : > xox


  25. Thank you for this wonderful post! It's so cool getting insight into your personal history, and the history of your home. It's a bit difficult to get my mind around how old things are there, when everything is relatively new here in Canada.

    I love the fact that both of you were at that party but not together. Ships passing in the night ... thank goodness your ships joined the same route later on, because you seem to be so good together.

    And what a strange tidbit about that child's arm!

  26. Thanks for an engrossing walk in a very strange village. One could smell the curry, the cooking, the rotted bricks and damp wood...I love alleys where history goes to hide and wait for rediscovery, tidied and refreshed.

    Visits to the cityscape of my young adulthood occur infrequently, so that I'm usually amazed at which huge commercial structures have been completely razed and which derelict Victorian boarding houses have been reborn as twee B & Bs. Recently a mission to a pet bookshop led to a shortcut down a notorious alley along which were a series of doors into single rooms with single windows, long boarded over. The boards have now been artistically decorated as doors opening into an interior view with the windows displaying the charms of the lady for hire. So much for veracious if sanitized depictions of cribs!

  27. Thoroughly enjoyed this little trip down memory lane with you! I can certainly see why you feel such an affinity with Indian culture. I would have been happy to have access to good Indian food while growing up, but it was unheard of in the small village where I lived.

    I'm sure the women to whom you delivered chips were very grateful that someone was nice to them.

  28. Yes you can always tell a non local ' Cald more ' instead of Karma !!! equally they say ' Gos coat' instead of Goscote. Never seen the windmill in real life

  29. I loved this wonderful post.
    Walsall has a rich cultural history, it was great going with you on a tour.
    Industrial midlands architecture has an austere beauty to me - I grew up around it & it gets into the bones I feel.
    Britt Ecland tried to use a "Hand of Glory" on Edward Woodward in the Wickerman did she not?
    I am enjoying avoiding Christmas very much :-) X

  30. Thanks for taking us on the Caldmore tour - and advising us on the correct pronunciation! It's clear to see the roots of your affinity with India. The area might be dilapidated in parts but it's clearly got plenty of history, some lovely buildings, and thriving businesses among the boarded-up pubs and derelict houses. The White Hart Inn is an interesting building, isn't it? Blimey, a mummified arm? There's probably some by-law against displaying it in the museum nowadays!
    Of course you can't remember the details of what happened at that party - like the Sixties, if you can remember them, you weren't there!
    Is it bad that I've never heard of Henry Newbolt?
    Hope something gets done with the brewery - those gates are rather impressive.
    There's always something to see on your own doorstep, so thanks for showing us. Love ya! xxxx

  31. What beautiful buildings and such an interesting part of town.I love all those lovely Victorian pubs and houses. So sad that they are all boarded up and not being used for something else. Reminds me of bits of Newcastle with a similar heritage. Thanks for another glimpse of Walsall. They are always so fascinating. Your affection for the place really shines through. Xx

  32. Thanks so much for taking me on your walk, I do enjoy these little trips out with you and Jon.

  33. Hi Vix, I love your neighborhood. Its so fun when you give us a a little historical outing. I love all the old buildings; so interesting and beautiful. My imagination runs wild. Thank you! :-)

  34. I love your tour posts;I'm such a Walsall fan! Easy to see wher your love of India comes from.
    I love the architecture and derelict buildings...sad but fascinating.
    That must have been a helluva party if you can't remember the details. Christmas madness here either.
    Loves ya.

  35. ohhh, I've loved reading your post, and watching those pics, such magnificent architectural details! (even if it's sad that so many buildings are not on active service!)

  36. I always love it when you share parts of where you live Vix and this looks like an amazing area with lots of history and interesting stores. Plus I bet some of those stores sell amazing Indian fabrics :)

  37. I really like your blazer...and your maxi skirt!!!

    I see you're having a lovely time. I love Christmas, but there are times when I want to run aways from it all.

    The history of this place is very interesting...I really appreciate you sharing this with us.

    thank you for your comment, I'm still limping but I hope that in a week or so I will probably be able to walk normally.

  38. It's all so fascinating ... but I want to know more about the mummified arm and the wild party!!

  39. What a great little area! But a shame all those pubs closed:( Thanks for the tour! :)

  40. Oh I do love a tour with Vix and Jon! Thank you for the fantastic images both in photos and words. xoxo

  41. Looks like such an interesting and vibrant place. I love the idea of the elephant parading around the village green!

  42. I really fancy a walk today, but since I don't have the energy to get out of bed, this is just perfect. Thanks Vix. Like everyone, I love your tours. History is all around us. The big stories and the small details. The life of a prostitute must be horrible, the places where they get to hang out and the uncertainty of who is going to pick them up, bet they really appreciated those chips. Mummified arm? How bizarre, did they have any theories as to why? Who? When? Do you have any pictures of the interior of your old home? That would make a lovely blog post. The first house I bought was a little lace makers 'cottage' with sash windows, just like those weaver's cottages. The beauty of living in one place your whole life is that every place has memories, that's a great thing. I had no idea you were following in your mother's footsteps. It all makes sense now. Xxxx

  43. Thanks for the photo tour of Caldmore Chameleon and the weaving of your personal history alongside the images. You live in a beautiful, diverse and interesting area! How wonderful that you have space to relax!!

  44. Soooo enjoyed this! I love old neighbourhoods and hate it when things become too prissied up and all the character and ghosts of the past gone. What a great tour you took us on. And how perfect your Mum had a shop, it's in the genes. Wishing you and yours a great holiday season and a fabulous 2016! x

  45. Such an evocative post!! I was fascinated as I walked along with you. I remember reading about all the pubs closing. I don't remember exactly why that is (?) but assume it must be like here, where corporate crap has raped and pillaged all the mom and pop establishments.

    Sending much love to you. I hope you get your well-deserved trip to Goa soon. XXXOOO

  46. Thanks for your tour of Caldmore. My dad had a menswear shop at 16 West Bromwich St (next to Pak Fashions in your photo) in the 70s. It was called Hayes.
    He used to make me & my brothers work there on Saturdays, which we hated, but glad he did now, as we went on to start our own clothing business - Seasalt Cornwall.

    Happy days in Caldmore - can still smell the piles of denim jeans in the back stockroom, and hear the greengrocer next door calling for his son Cloy-iv-er (Clive in brummie speak).


Thanks for reading and for leaving a message. Please don't be anonymous, I'd love it if you left a name (or a nom de plume).

Lots of love, Vix